06 Mar

China: A Case Study of Sex Worker Organising

China photo

“People can come in and share. They have a sense of belonging. A sense of identity. We talk about their work and encourage them to share. So we have an environment of people talking with us.”

Sex work is illegal in China and it is difficult to effectively organise online due to censorship and repercussions. The large geographic distances in China make it difficult to come together in person. This is the Red Umbrella Fund’s third case study, highlighting the work of a sex worker-led organisation in China to improve access to health care and legal services for highly mobile cis men and trans women sex workers.

For the safety of all those involved in the work of this organisation and to avoid jeopardizing the organisation’s important work, the name and details have been anonymized in this case study.

“Academic partners are useful for their expertise in the theories and concepts surrounding sex work and gender. The group has always promoted sex work as work, but has more recently used academic theories gained from partnerships with researchers to improve their approach to advocacy.” 

Despite all the challenges and risks of organising in China, the group has managed to create a drop in centre specifically for cis men and trans women sex workers. This has created a sense of community and a safe space where sex workers can feel comfortable being themselves and where they are able to share experiences and exchange advice. News of the group has been spread by word of mouth through the networks of sex workers.

Read the full case study HERE.

Read the second case study about APROSMIG in Brazil HERE.

Read the first case study about Sisonke in South Africa HERE.

23 Feb

APROSMIG: A Case Study

APROSMIG

[**Texto abaixo em português]

 “From community outreach to political action, the group has made great strides in empowering sex workers and decreasing violence against them.”

Sex workers in Brazil face high levels of stigma, systematic violence and abuse from the police. However, the group has developed a successful relationship with the military police of Minas Gerais which has resulted in a significant decrease in violence against sex workers in the area. This case study (the second in a series of three) is about APROSMIG (Associação das Prostitutas de Minas Gerais), a sex worker-led group in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“APROSMIG provides legal counselling, promoting access to social benefits, and training participants to deal with situations such as arrest and violence from the police and clients. They have worked with the urbanisation company URBEL to include older sex workers in the social housing system. In workshops on entrepreneurship sex workers learn how to open  a business bank account and use debit and credit machines, which are much safer and help to avoid situations of violence with clients.”

APROSMIG has empowered sex workers through educational and cultural initiatives. The group provided English language classes for sex workers and developed a reference book (“Puta Livro”) for international clients during big international events in the country. APROSMIG organised marches and Daspu (from the whores) and Puta Dei events, demonstrating their pride and successful community building.

The Red Umbrella Fund was the group’s first international and institutional funder.

Read the full case study HERE [in English].

Read the full case study HERE [in Portuguese].

Read previous case study about Sisonke HERE [in English only].

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APROSMIG: Um estudo de caso

“Da ação comunitária à ação política, o grupo fez grandes avanços na capacitação das profissionais do sexo e diminuição da violência contra elas”.

As profissionais do sexo, no Brasil, enfrentam altos níveis de estigma, violência sistemática e abuso da polícia. Contudo, o grupo desenvolveu um relação bem sucedida com a polícia militar de Minas Gerais, o que resultou em uma diminuição significativa na violência contra as profissionais do sexo na área. Este estudo de caso (o segundo de uma série de três) é sobre APROSMIG (Associação das Prostitutas de Minas Gerais), um grupo de profissionais do sexo de Belo Horizonte, Brasil.

 “A APROSMIG oferece consultoria jurídica, promovendo o acesso a benefícios sociais e capacitando as participantes a lidarem com situações tais como prisão ou violência cometida por policiais ou clientes. O grupo trabalhou com a empresa de urbanização URBEL para incluir profissionais do sexo mais velhas no seu sistema de habitação social. Workshops sobre empreendedorismo ensinam as profissionais do sexo a abrirem uma conta bancária comercial e como usar máquinas de cartão de crédito e débito, que são muito mais seguras do que dinheiro vivo e ajudam a evitar situações de violência com clientes.”

APROSMIG capacitou profissionais do sexo através de iniciativas educacionais e culturais. O grupo ofereceu aulas de inglês para profissionais do sexo e desenvolveu um livro de referência (“Puta Livro”) para clientes internacionais durante grandes eventos internacionais no país. APROSMIG organizou marchas e os eventos Daspu e Puta Dei, demonstrando orgulho e empoderamento da comunidade.

O Red Umbrella Fund foi o primeiro financiador internacional e institucional do grupo.

Leia o estudo de caso completo AQUI [em português].

Leia o estudo de caso completo AQUI [em inglês].

Leia o estudo de caso anterior sobre Sisonke AQUI [em inglês apenas].

 

15 Feb

Sisonke: A Case Study

Sisonke_website

“We are now able to take ownership and leadership of the things we do—to take a lead in everything that we do on our own. As our slogan says, ‘Nothing about Us, without Us.”

The Red Umbrella Fund developed three case studies to highlight successful stories of sex workers in their efforts to build strong sex worker movements in three different regions – Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This first case study is about Sisonke, the national movement of sex workers in South Africa. This movement was established in 2003 as a response to injustice and to ensure sex workers’ access to health services and rights. Sex workers in this movement have come together to build strong and strategic alliances, and to change the legal framework of sex work in South Africa.

“Sisonke has complemented its advocacy work with creative campaigns and activities aimed at combating the stigmatization of sex workers in its communities… Sisonke has noticed a positive difference where they have a dialogue with the community members.”

Many sex worker organisations and movements face difficulties accessing funding for their human rights advocacy and capacity building work. When funding is available, it is often only provided for programs specifically targeting health and HIV. The Red Umbrella Fund gives core funding grants that allows grantees to decide how to spend the money. With this funding, Sisonke was able to strengthen and expand its organisational and advocacy activities in their  fight for decriminalisation of sex work in the country.

Read the full case study HERE.

11 Jan

Not Victims

buttons_credit Dale Kongmont APNSW

I come from quite a conservative religious background. I remember, as a young girl, feeling upset and sad when walking through the Red Light District in Amsterdam, wishing someday all these women would be ‘free’. No, I could never see myself behind those windows.

Based on my personal ideas and feelings, I assumed that sex work was not a job that anyone would ever choose to do. I imagined that most people working in the sex industry must have been forced somehow. I have learned that my assumptions are not always right.

During my research of sex worker organisations and anti-trafficking measures, I also learned that assumptions can have harmful consequences. I interviewed sex worker activists from twelve organisations about their understanding of and response to trafficking. The stories I heard taught me that sex workers are often far from disempowered. And that all of them are in fact already taking action to influence the debate – as well as the practices – around preventing and addressing cases of trafficking into sex work.

The public discourse13336434_10154107603289627_1564694405_n

In the public discourse, sex workers are often portrayed as women who are poor, powerless victims who have had no other choice but to ‘sell their bodies’. They may be a victim of unfortunate circumstances or they may have fallen prey to abusive boyfriends or criminals who forced them into the sex industry[1].

The latter category, often referred to as ‘human trafficking’ is a popular topic. Millions of dollars are invested into anti-trafficking campaigns and programs every year. However, the topic is widely debated with diverse stories, statistics and popular rhetoric, allowing for a distorted image of reality. Discourses around sex work and trafficking are often linked, based on prejudices, morals and somewhat dramatic rhetoric and images. But repeating this conflation time and time again has harmful consequences.

The European anti-trafficking network La Strada International states that:

“unbalanced media coverage on trafficking can … create false perceptions and damage the interests of trafficked persons rather than servicing them”.

They argue that media coverage on trafficking is problematic because of the ‘portrayal of the scope and nature of trafficking, in particular with regard to estimates of the number of trafficked persons and its occurrence in the sex industry or other economic sectors’.

Taking action

Today, over 200 sex worker-led organizations are members of the Global Network for Sex Worker Projects (NSWP). The Red Umbrella Fund, the only sex worker-led fund for sex worker organizations in the world, has received applications from over 225 different sex worker organizations and networks in the past five years. These diverse groups all stand up for sex workers rights but each have their own priorities, with some more focused on health where others on protection against violence. Others focus on influencing policy-making processes for protective laws and policies on sex work or migration. These organisations generally acknowledge that exploitation and human trafficking happens in their sector, however, not on the exaggerated scale as often suggested by the media and in politics.

Some of these groups have themselves set up programs to combat trafficking in their sector. The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) in India consists of over 65,000 sex workers. Since 1997, the DMSC has been highly concerned with human trafficking and established Self-Regulatory Boards to prevent and counter trafficking. These boards consist of both sex workers and other local professionals such as doctors, lawyers and government officials. They ensure that women who start working in their district are not underage, and not coerced into sex work. The DMSC also provides information about the work and about the services and support that are available for sex workers. They note that:

“there was no existing effective mechanism to combat trafficking in destination (of sex work) sites and only a committed group of sex workers could prevent entry of trafficked underage girls or unwilling women into the sex sector.”

Research shows that the self-regulatory boards are an effective solution to prevent trafficking, and that sex workers can play a critical role against trafficking.

The example of the DMSC has inspired other collectives to implement similar initiatives, adjusted to their local context. For instance, the sex worker collective Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) recently published a book about their own anti-trafficking efforts.daughter-of-the-hills

But if these strategies are so successful, why have they not (yet) been widely replicated in other countries?

The Biggest Challenge

One of the challenges faced by sex worker groups is that they are not recognized as partners against trafficking. Because sex workers are often considered ‘victims in need of rescue,’ sex worker organisations tend to spend most of their time and resources in both gaining recognition of sex work as a legitimate profession, and representing the voice of these workers. German sex worker group Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen (BesD) has stated that:

“they apparently don’t think it’s important to support sex worker-led organizations in the whole quest of saving and rescuing sex workers”.

Moreover, many anti-trafficking programs in practice are focused on anti-sex work policies, induced by the highly stigmatising popular discourse surrounding sex work. Therefore, many sex worker groups are focused on debunking the myths on sex work and human trafficking, and changing the rhetoric. They feel that the tone of the discussion needs to be changed in order to protect both sex workers and trafficking victims.

“The authorities think that wherever prostitution is practiced, there are women who are forced into it. And we are trying to sensitize the authorities to demystify their myths and prejudices” – representative from sex worker organisation Mujeres del Sur, Peru

Many sex worker organisations monitorlastrescueinsiam_empower and critique existing anti-trafficking initiatives, as they themselves experience the harms resulting from these programmes and campaigns. Sex worker group Empower in Thailand criticises current anti-trafficking ‘raid & rescue’ operations in a playful yet spot-on video.

First do no harm

Although I have adjusted my understanding of sex work and can accept it as a job, I still think I could never be a sex worker myself. Why? Because I think I would feel very uncomfortable setting my own boundaries with my body, my clients and myself. I will never forget the reply I got from a sex worker when I shared this thought: “Well, if you don’t think sex work is for you, then you’re probably right”. And I think he was right. Just like being a banker, a butcher, or a dentist are definitely not the jobs for me either.

donoharm
But I learned that a young woman’s pity based on assumptions is not helpful for anyone. Rather, what sex workers need is to be recognized as workers. We need to challenge and change the current discourse on sex work and human trafficking. We have to be critical of popular discourses that reduce sex workers to victims with no agency. We need to support sex workers’ rights, decriminalise sex work and fund sex workers’ rights organisations. Furthermore, we should invite sex workers as experts in anti-trafficking spaces and acknowledge them as allies in the fight against trafficking.

Not victims. Rather, sex workers are crucial partners in the fight against human trafficking. Only when we take a human rights based approach, stopping the discrimination and recognising the important contribution of sex workers in this area, can we work together to effectively counter human trafficking in the sex industry.


This blog was written by Wendelijn Vollbehr,  who conducted qualitative research in partnership with the Red Umbrella Fund in 2016. Her masters thesis, “Sex workers against human trafficking. Strategies and challenges of sex worker-led organizations in the fight against human trafficking,” was nominated for the FSW Johannes van der Zouwen Masters Thesis Prize 2016 and is available here.

 

[1] Weitzer, R. (2007). The social construction of sex trafficking: Ideology and institutionalization of a moral crusade. Politics & Society, 35(3), 447-475.

16 Nov

Who will join our ISC?

ISC May2016s

ISC May2016sThe Red Umbrella Fund is looking for committed sex worker activists to join our International Steering Committee (ISC)!

Are you an experienced sex worker and activist interested in supporting the sex workers’ rights movements at a global level? 

Do you agree with the need to respect sex work as work and ensure that sex workers everywhere can organize themselves to claim their human rights?

We currently have 4 positions open on our ISC for sex workers from:
1)      any of the non-Spanish speaking countries in Latin America or the Caribbean;
2)      any of the English speaking countries in Africa;
3)      any country in South Asia;
4)      any country in East Asia, Southeast Asia or the Pacific (except for Australia or New Zealand)

Deadline for nomination forms and endorsement letters: 6 December 2016.

Note that applications will be accepted in English, Spanish or Russian only.

Download the self-nomination form here.

Interested? Keep reading!


About the Red Umbrella Fund

The Red Umbrella Fund is the only global fund dedicated to supporting and promoting the rights of sex workers. We exist to mobilise new money to support a strong and sustainable global sex workers’ rights movement that can create the changes sex workers want to see. The Red Umbrella Fund has made 78 core-funding grants to sex worker-led organisations in all regions since it was launched in 2012. Click here for more information about us.

How we are organised

ISC tour Belle2s

ISC members, staff and volunteers at the sex worker statue of Belle in Amsterdam

The Red Umbrella Fund is led by a partnership of sex workers and donors, with a sex worker majority in both grantmaking decisions and overall governance. Our International Steering Committee (ISC) provides oversight and is responsible for making strategic decisions. We also have a Programme Advisory Committee (PAC), which is our peer review panel that advises the ISC on the groups to fund. The work is coordinated and supported through a small secretariat (office), hosted by the international women’s fund Mama Cash, in the Netherlands.

Roles and Responsibilities of ISC Members

The International Steering Committee (ISC) is responsible for the key strategic and programmatic decisions of the Red Umbrella Fund. While its members come from different parts of the world, all ISC members are expected to keep the global perspective of the Red Umbrella Fund at the forefront of their decision making.

The ISC:

  1. Sets the grantmaking criteria and priorities, selects the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) members, and approves the new (Grantmaking)
  2. Supervises and supports the Fund Coordinator and reviews and approves policies, plans and procedures related to strategic and programmatic decisions. (Management)
  3. Reviews and approves the Red Umbrella Fund annual plan and budget. (Planning)
  4. Ensures that the Red Umbrella Fund’s communications are consistent with the agendas of key global and regional networks of sex workers and the fund’s own vision and mission. (Communication)
  5. Supports communication, cross-learning, and capacity building. (Learning and sharing)

Who are the ISC members?

The ISC consists of sex worker representatives (always the majority) and representatives of selected donors to the Red Umbrella Fund. It has up to 11 members from different parts of the world. The ISC aims to consist of people who are capable of fulfilling the described set of ISC responsibilities, while striving for diversity on all levels, including geographic, language, gender, areas of expertise, and types of networks and affiliations.

What we are looking for:

  • Sex workers’ rights activist, who identify as (current or former) sex workers and are part of and endorsed by at least one sex worker-led organisation. Note that ISC members are selected based on their individual skills, expertise and commitment to strengthen the global sex workers’ rights movement(s) and they are not considered representatives of their respective organisation or region.
  • Sex workers’ rights activists based in any of the of the regions mentioned in the box at the top. Note that the other regions already have representation on our ISC at the moment.
  • Someone with regular e-mail access and availability to attend quarterly ISC meetings (by phone or Skype) and at least one three-day meeting in-person per year. ISC members are expected to volunteer additional time (several hours per week) for ISC discussions and responsibilities at different times of the year.
  • All candidates must be interested and available to commit to actively participate in the ISC for a minimum of three years. Membership can be renewed once for another three years.
  • Able to communicate well (read, write and speak) in English, Spanish or Russian.

What do we offer?

  • Participating in the ISC provides a unique opportunity to contribute to the only global fund that is led by the community and specifically focuses on supporting the sex workers’ rights movements.
  • Insight into the sex workers’ rights movements globally as well as the funding landscape and trends.
  • Direct contact with diverse sex workers’ rights activists and allied funders.
  • ISC membership is a voluntary (unpaid) position but costs of participating in Red Umbrella Fund meetings are covered.
  • Language support for ISC members to communicate together in English, Spanish and Russian.

How do you apply?

  1. Get a sex worker organisation or network that you are part of to write an endorsement for your nomination; and
  2. Send us your completed self-nomination form.

 

Questions? Please contact info [at] redumbrellafund [dot] org

02 Nov

Covering the World with the Red Umbrella – Reflections of a PAC Member

PAC 2016

After a few unsuccessful applications by my organization, Bar Hostess Empowerment & Support Programme (BHESP), to the Red Umbrella Fund, I saw it:  the call for sex workers to be part of the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) of the Red Umbrella Fund. That is the group that reviews proposals from sex workers’ organizations from all over the world. I decided to give it a shot.

After all, if I could not make it as a grantee, I would try for a reviewer of the grants!

I knew the process would be enriching and the exposure to well written proposals would really be of help. I knew the selection of PAC members would be very competitive but I hoped my experience as director of one of the oldest sex workers’ organization as well as being the chair of Africa Sex Workers Alliance would help. I also threw in my experience as a proposal reviewer for a local fund.

…and it worked!

I was selected as one of the two representatives of the fund from Africa. The PAC meeting brought together a group of eleven sex work activists from all over the world in Amsterdam for the 5th year of the Red Umbrella Fund’s application review process. Now I sit on the plane home and reflect on the process.

Widespread panic

There was a request from an African country where the HIV prevalence among sex workers is over 50%. The request was to fund the only national sex worker organization in that country. This proposal brought back memories…

It took me back to a sad time in the ‘90s when HIV prevalence was over 30% in the general population. Although there was no data to determine the number of sex workers infected at that time, BHESP put the figure to over 60% in Nairobi among bar hostesses and sex workers. An entire bar lost all her hostesses and other girls. The story was the same in bar after bar. There was widespread panic and desperation.

Sitting in the room with all these activists, selected to participate as a representative of African sex workers for this fund, I feel I must make a case for this proposal. Surely this is why this great fund was formed, to respond to the cries of such women who suffer so much, unsupported and unrecognized?

PAC

Photo: PAC members reviewing applications

So many proposals

But there are so many excellent proposals from all over the world. From sex workers who use drugs, sex workers locked up in prisons, migrant sex workers and even refugee sex workers. Proposals are from women, men and transgender sex workers. We reviewed proposals from local grassroots groups to regional networks.

Some of the organizations are responding to violence and gaps in access to health. Many of them have only been exposed to HIV programs and are not aware of the kind of support, the core funding, available from the Red Umbrella Fund. So many base their request on HIV commodities and services only. Many sex workers do not yet understand that there can be an organization like the Red Umbrella Fund that just wants to support you as an activist sex worker organization.

A funder that accepts and respects sex worker organizations for what they are. Yes really, no crazy targets here! You can use the money to pay rent and to grow your organization.

Some groups were created just one month earlier while others have more than 30 years of history.  Each PAC member is allocated a set of proposals to score prior to the meeting. Having scored earlier on what I thought were very good proposals, I am faced with even better proposals, compelling cases and persuasive advocates.

Amazing people

I’ve learned a lot from these proposals but even more from the other PAC members. Each one of them is an expert, knowledgeable, experienced and passionate to a fault. We debate everything from Brexit to new laws against sex work. The feelings and opinions are as strong as these amazing people.

I am honored indeed to be in the PAC with an Italian colleague who explains to me how the red umbrella, now adopted as the symbol of sex workers all over the world, came into being in Italy. Grazie to the sex workers’ rights activists in Italy.

Cover the world with red umbrellas

We laugh, argue and score amazing groups, some very local groups, others working at national or regional levels. It is clear that some proposals are well thought out and articulated. They speak to the level of organizing and capacity but also to preparedness and time spent on the proposals. These must surely be rewarded. But we also keep in mind that in many countries English may be a third language or not applicable at all. The entire proposal may have been translated by Mr Google. We all know how that goes! We know the realities of sex worker activism and the challenges of putting together a quality proposal. Our scoring will not be based on just perfect wording and presentation.

The last day is tough because excellent and deserving proposals will need to be left out, due to scarcity of resources and… no other reason.

We seek some form of regional balance in the final selection. The fund is not called the Red Umbrella Fund for nothing; we must cover the world of sex workers!

As I sit on the plane, I reflect on the many things I have learned in my first time as a reviewer of this great fund. I reflect on the huge responsibility bestowed upon me as a PAC member. Among this is the responsibility to be fair and true, to give a chance to thousands of sex workers and their groups to rise in a world that is determined to push them down. A world that sees sex workers as criminals, illegals, or victims. We are determined to uphold our mantra:

Sex work is work.

By Peninah Mwangi, member of the Red Umbrella Fund’s Programme Advisory Committee (PAC)

24 Oct

Red Umbrella Fund: Who Gets to Choose?

Minerva5

This blog was written by Minerva Valenzuela, our Programme Advisory Committee member based in Mexico City. It was initially published in Spanish at the feminist collaborative blog Harén de Nadie. Minerva is a sex workers’ rights advocate and peer reviewed two grant-making rounds of the Red Umbrella Fund. In this blog she shares her excitement and experience in supporting the growing and showing sex workers’ rights movement!

In 2001, there was a huge exhibition at the 49th  Venice Biennale to discuss Sex Workers’ Rights. It included film screenings, roundtables, theatre, performances, personal testimonies and other initiatives, including a demonstration with megaphones, blankets and many red umbrellas to attract the attention of passers-by and make them watch it.

It was a powerful and beautiful image and in 2005 the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe adopted the red umbrella as a symbol of resistance. The global community liked it and since then most groups and organizations related to sex work use it.

Minerva1Nowadays, the red umbrella is the international symbol for sex workers’ strength and unity, as well as for their struggle against stigma and for their rights and the recognition they deserve.

In 2006, sex workers, foundations, donors, human rights experts and other international (and moneyed) institutions embarked on a dialogue that was to conclude only in 2012 with the creation of the Red Umbrella Fund, the first global fund led by and for sex workers.

I learned about the existence of the Red Umbrella Fund during the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival that took place in Calcutta, India, in 2012. It was one of those things that changes the way in which your brain works. That sets something in motion that leads to completely changing your way of thinking.

What I realized was that, if money is power, why don’t we change power dynamics within organizations and foundations? If money is power, then we should democratize control over money. The money aimed at “aiding” social movements related to sex work should be distributed by sex workers and not by who knows who. Who is going to know best which projects can bring effective change to the different sex workers’ communities? Sex workers themselves or the head of a “socially responsible” transnational corporation with money to donate? Sex workers or a woman who wants to “help” them because she sees them as passive, helpless, and victimized, and if they claim to be anything different, well, it’s their false consciousness speaking…?

The Red Umbrella Fund was born out of these ideas and in its first year it received 1147 applications. Many more have been coming in every year, with fantastic and very diverse projects.

All these beautiful projects tell us something very important: that there is a global movement of people engaged in sex work. It works in an informed and organized way. Its members know about law, health, digital safety, video editing, advocacy, self-defence, graphic design, civil disobedience and even nail polish – and when they don’t know, they get advice from those who do.

This saves us from many pages and hours of groundless discourses about sex workers being passive, helpless, victimized and speaking from their false consciousness if they claim to be otherwise. What a relief! Because when invited to write or speak about sex work this is what worries me the most: that a feminist will approach me in an evil way to explain to me that this is how I am.

This is my second year as a member of the Programme Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund and I am more in love than ever with the projects I have to assess. Each of them shows specific skills for something, creativity, strategies, team work and, of course, each one responds to its specific context. It is not the same to do sex work in Uganda as it is to do it in China or in Bolivia. Each location has its own particularities, its laws, its gaps and its stories. But there is something that runs through all the projects and that is the fact that stigma is what is bringing the most trouble to sex workers everywhere. None is spared. All the groups and organizations are searching for what to do so that sex workers stop being subjected to mockery, social and police harassment, and being forced to remain underground to preserve their safety and their lives.

It’s unbelievable, right?

Who would do something like that? Who would contribute a bit every day to encourage stigma against sex workers? Cough, cough.

Who says “son of a bitch” to refer to someone despicable? What lies behind this is: Nothing is lower than a whore, worse if she is a mother, and worst if she is your mother.

What is so terrible about mothers who are sex workers and their children?

Minerva2

Photo: This dress belongs to the Barbie of a daughter of a sex worker. This girl likes to dance and to put her hands under fountains.

 

 

 

 

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Photo: This kid’s truck was parked in a street where sex workers work. One of them loves the pozole (maize stew) his father cooks. The other one likes small dogs.

 

Are all of you fine? Has anybody fainted after being virtually in touch with sex workers who are mothers and with their children?

But, going back to the Red Umbrella Fund, I encourage all sex workers who are reading this to organize themselves in groups, collectives, organizations. And when you decide to submit a proposal to the Red Umbrella Fund, I would be delighted to advise you. I would love to see a proposal from my country, Mexico, among all those jewels!

By Minerva Valenzuela, Programme Advisory Committee member of the Red Umbrella Fund

*This text was made available in English thanks to Alejandra Sarda.

04 Oct

As Rosas Já Falam: My Love Letter to AWID

AWID Daspu lineup

AWID Daspu lineupFrom September 8th to 11th, many feminist sex workers’ rights advocates and allies made their way to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil and gathered at the AWID Forum. AWID’s forum is a massive global gathering that brought together over 1800 feminists from all over the world this year. While the history of sex work activism in feminist spaces is long, the meaningful and respectful participation of sex workers in these spaces is sparkling new.

“We are whores. We are feminists. And we have rights.” – Cida Vieira, APROSMIG (Brazil)

Ana Luz Mamani, a sex worker activist from Mujeres del Sur in Peru and member of the International Steering Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, spoke to a large crowd about funding sex worker organising in the plenary “Money and Movements”. And that was just the start of the evening…

It was followed by a DASPU fashion show organised by sex worker activists to raise visibility for the sex workers’ movement and sex work “as work”. DASPU is a Brazilian sex worker-brand that is renowned for its fashion shows filled with humour, pride and advocacy messages. While the audience danced and cheered on their chairs, sex workers and allies from more than twenty nationalities performed on stage.

Let me tell you, it was a blast!

IMG_3058The catwalk celebrated the existence of the Red Umbrella Fund, which was launched at the AWID Forum in Turkey in 2012, and the “growing and showing” sex workers’ rights movements. Since its launch, the Red Umbrella Fund has made 78 grants, totalling over 1.8 million USD of direct financial support to sex worker organising in 45 countries.

Open Arms

The show also symbolised a big “thank you” to AWID for welcoming sex workers into these feminist spaces with open arms. For creating room for a feminist dialogue with sex workers beyond the often overwhelming trafficking and exploitation debates.

IMG_3042

Photo: Sangeeta Ramu Manoji, VAMP (India)

Personally, I was honoured to celebrate sex workers’ lives, experiences, affections, challenges but also opportunities with friends and fellow activists from around the world! I was thrilled with the large amount of positivity I heard about the vibrant moves of the sex worker show at AWID’s arena. Among the comments was a celebration of our ability to bring together the diversity of the sex worker movement – which includes sex workers of all genders, sexual orientations, race, and class – on stage, and to mobilise hundreds of enthusiastic feminists. Sex worker activism does not always get such a response in feminist spaces.

So sex workers fight trafficking?

“Anti-trafficking policy in Canada is anti-sex work policy. Actually, we don’t need the police to rescue us. Sex workers need to know their rights. (…) Migrant sex workers are treated as terrorists in Canada. This year alone, 16 women in our network have been arrested. They have trauma. Not because of trafficking or exploitation, but because of the arrest and police treatment.” – Elene Lam, Butterfly (Canada)

The Red Umbrella Fund co-hosted a session that elaborated on the need to acknowledge sex workers as key allies in the fight against sex trafficking and labour exploitation. Elene Lam (Butterfly Asia and Migrant Sex Workers Project, Canada), Cida Vieira (APROSMIG, Brazil) and Kiran Deshmukh (VAMP, India) shared diverse examples of how they stand up for their rights as sex workers and for the rights of people who have experienced sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“Raids [of brothels] in India are very violent. They are often sponsored by anti-trafficking NGOs. They have a lot of money. We struggle to find money to collectivise but they have big budgets. (…) Every woman who opts to be in sex work should have that right and should be able to work in safe work conditions.” – Kiran Deshmukh, VAMP (India)

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Photo: Elene Lam, Cida Vieira, Bandana Pattanaik, Kiran Deshmukh, Aarthi Pai

They expressed the need to talk about labour and migration rights for women and to gain respect for sex workers’ voices and experiences, as well as to value their vast knowledge in the field. Bandana Pattanaik from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) concluded that the presentations “demonstrated that sex worker organisations are claiming their space, involving communities, and engaging at policy level to combat trafficking”.

Funding Movements

In the session, ‘How Can Funders Most Effectively Support Young Feminist, Trans* and Sex Worker Movements’, the Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund, Nadia van der Linde, advocated for more and, importantly, better funding for sex workers’ rights. She then opened the discussion with the sex workers and other activists in the audience about how funders can improve their funding in support of, and together with, their respective social movements.

Some of the needs expressed to funders were:

  • listen to the community;
  • provide long-term and flexible support;
  • support strategies and capacity to overcome closing civil society spaces and bureaucracy;
  • translation support; and
  • introductions to other funders.

No Turning Back!

Photo: Gabriela Leite by Luiz Garrido

Every forum day, sex workers were visible in one or more sessions in the programme, whether from the perspective of fun and pleasure, transgender rights, or artivism. I heard numerous people at AWID say that they believed this was “the tipping point” for the global feminist movement’s embracing of sex workers’ rights. I witnessed a growing understanding that sex work is a human rights issue in which feminists play an important role in pushing a rights-based agenda forward. As stated in the title of Open Society Foundations’ report that was also launched at AWID, there is No Turning Back.  The way forward is jointly with and in support of sex workers.

So this was my love letter to AWID and to all those who made sex worker participation possible and outstanding. To quote Gabriela Leite, a sex worker activist from Brazil and creator of DASPU: “as rosas já falam” (sex workers already have a voice). Just listen. 

By Dennis van Wanrooij, Red Umbrella Fund

02 Sep

Red Umbrella Fund at AWID Forum 2016

awid forum

Are you attending the AWID Forum 2016 in Brazil?

Come join sex workers and allies on Friday evening the 9th of September for the Celebration of the Red Umbrella Fund’s four-year anniversary! We are honoured to celebrate our anniversary with sex workers in a catwalk organised by Daspu, a Brazilian sex worker-brand that promotes sex workers’ rights through fashion, pride and humour.

Our party will be part of the Money & Movements Plenary from 18.00 to 20.00 hours at Arena Sauípe. Our International Steering Daspu sw show AWIDCommittee member Ana Luz, founder of sex worker organisation Asociación de Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur in Peru, will also be speaking at the plenary.

Four years ago, the Red Umbrella Fund was created and launched at AWID’s Istanbul Conference (2012). Ana Luz was there too. The Red Umbrella Fund is now in itsfifth grantmaking year and has already made 78 grants to sex worker-led organisations and networks in 45 countries so far, with more to come.

To push further the agenda for the rights of sex workers globally, the Red Umbrella Fund is co-hosting two sessions at AWID in Brazil:

Combating Trafficking for Puporse of Sexual Exploitation: Do We Do More Harm Than Good?
Saturday, 10 September, 11.30 – 13.00 in Vera Cruz
This session consists of sex worker rights activists who will share their experience with anti-trafficking initiatives and share their own initiatives to prevent and address trafficking and exploitation.

How Can Funders Most Effectively Support Young Feminist, Trans* and Sex Worker Movements
Sunday, 11 September, 11.00 – 12.30 in Bahia 3
Funders will share information from mappings of funding invested in support of sex worker, trans* and young feminist activism, discuss experiences of involving communities in grantmaking processes, and seek feedback from the audience.

The Red Umbrella Fund will also host office hours for sex workers on fundraising, using the NSWP’s Smart Guide to Sustainable Funding.

Many other sex worker activists are organising sessions at AWID as well, check out the programme for more information.

We hope to see you there!

Red Umbrella Fund team

04 Aug

My Feminism Supports Sex Workers’ Rights

Sisonke March on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

When one of the International Steering Committee members of the Red Umbrella Fund asked me why I chose to volunteer here out of all organizations for the summer, I struggled to come up with an articulate answer on the spot. “I’d always heard rhetoric about including sex workers in feminism,” I told him, “and I wanted to put that into practice.” I only realized later why he was likely so surprised at my decision to volunteer for the Red Umbrella Fund: I’m an American.

When it comes to sex workers’ rights, my home country is about as clueless as the tourists in Amsterdam walking through the bike lanes. Most people don’t know the difference between human trafficking and sex work, and hardly any would include the rights of sex workers in their top political priorities. Before I started volunteer for the Red Umbrella Fund, I wouldn’t have either.

While at the Red Umbrella Fund, I met with an activist for LGBTQ  and sex workers’ rights from China. He lives in a context in which someone can be arrested simply for saying the words “human rights”.

Despite all of this, when I told him I’m from the United States, he said: “Oh. I’ve heard the situation for sex workers there is terrible! Chinese sex workers do not want to go there.”

I knew from my experience at the Red Umbrella Fund that he was right, but my heart still sunk. Throughout my time volunteering here, I’ve learned more and more about the danger and stigma sex workers in the United States face. So why had I rarely heard about it in my country itself, even in spaces dedicated to human rights and social justice? If living abroad has taught me anything, it’s that America has a lot more to be embarrassed about than the success of Donald Trump.

Sex Work Policy

My experience at the Red Umbrella Fund led me to wonder whether sex workers’ rights had ever been addressed in mainstream American politics. For those who, like I was, are clueless about sex work policy and sex workers’ rights, this website does a great job at clearly outlining sex work laws across the world. It clarifies that both buying and selling sex are illegal in most of the US. While some may believe that criminalizing the purchasing of sexual services is a progressive model, sex worker and activist Toni Mac debunks this myth in her viral TED talk here.

Toni Mac’s “What do sex workers want?”, TEDx

In the words of Mac:

“if you care about gender equality or poverty or migration or public health, then sex workers’ rights matter to you.”

Anti-Prostitution Pledge

In addition to the laws mentioned above, George Bush implemented a policy known currently as the “anti-prostitution pledge”, which remained in place until the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2013.  Essentially, it required NGOs funded by the US to adopt an organization-wide policy opposing both sex work and sex trafficking, again failing to make the important distinction between the two. Even after it was struck down in 2013, the law continues to affect affiliate offices of American organizations abroad, such as those fighting HIV in the global South (see here and here). The impact of past US presidents on stigmatized populations across the globe remains far-reaching. This is why it is important as ever to pay attention to the upcoming election.

Hillary Clinton’s Perspective on Sex Work

Coincidentally, as I became interested in the lack of attention to sex workers’ rights in the United States, I was reading a book called False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. To my surprise, and disappointment, it became even more relevant when I reached Chapter 10: Hillary Screws Sex Workers. For anyone hoping to gain knowledge about the context of sex workers’ rights within the United States, I highly recommend it.

Sex work policy is determined on a state level in the US and therefore rarely addressed in presidential campaigns. But when activists asked Hillary Clinton (in 2007) about her opinion she said: “I do not support legalized prostitution or any form of prostitution” (128).

She conflated sex work with human trafficking and failed to acknowledge that anti-trafficking efforts often criminalize the most vulnerable populations in America: women of color, undocumented people, trans people, and single parents.

While Hillary was Secretary of State, Cambodia introduced a new anti-trafficking program, that “threw workers into rehabilitation programs where they were subject to rape and violence” (130). Hillary granted it an “improved rating”, which meant that it would receive additional funding from the United States. If that’s not “faux feminism”, I don’t know what is. As the author of the chapter, sex worker Margaret Corvid, poignantly explains, “In the United States, there is no national debate where sex workers have a place at the table. By helping to shape the American narrative around sex work, obscuring us as either criminals or survivors, Hillary Clinton has helped to keep us invisible, and she must like it that way” (132).

Police Brutality

Monica JonesAs the #BlackLivesMatter movement gains voice in the fight against police brutality in the US, we must remember that sex workers, particularly trans women of color, often face police violence. Almost one out of every 5 sex workers interviewed by the Urban Justice Center in New York reported sexual harassment and abuse, including rape, by police (INCITE!). Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color, was arrested on prostitution charges in 2014 while simply walking down the street. It prompting the viral hashtag #WalkingWhileTrans.  Alisha Walker, a sex worker from Chicago, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stabbing a client who attacked her at work.

Ending violence and discrimination, particularly from police, is a top priority for most sex worker organisations. Sex workers, like any other workers, deserve to work in safe environments.

To learn more about how sex work policy in the US negatively impacts people of color, check out the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s newest platform. It includes a demand for the decriminalization of sex work. When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackTransLivesMatter, we have to talk about sex workers. And vice versa.

Wake Up Call

Although it seems easy to fall into hopelessness about the current state of the US, the revolutionary work of activists on the ground remind me not to.  Sex workers, though often silenced and erased from the mainstream media, are at the forefront of activist movements all over the world. Learn more about how to be an ally to the sex worker movement. Perhaps, if we turn to activists rather than politicians to re-instill hope, the world will become a little bit less scary.

By Rachel Drucker, summer volunteer at the Red Umbrella Fund